The emerging trend of "Bring Your Own Services"

The emerging trend of "Bring Your Own Services"

Summary: We're all familiar with the idea of "bring your own device", what happens if users start to bring their own services?

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BYOS

Go back to the pre-post-PC era -- the time before every human and their dog had a smartphone -- normal people didn't really like computers that much.

The only people who played with computers were technologists. Whenever a technologist would go and look at a PC owned by a non-technologist they would recoil in horror at the state of the thing. Inevitably a non-technologist's PC would be a grab bag of missing updates, accidentally installed IE add-ins, and various other crimes against good IT tradecraft.

In the post-PC era though things are different. Now non-technologists play with their computers (i.e. smartphones and tablets) all the time. It's not unusual to find people coming with complex workflows such as taking photos on their iPhone, backing them up to iCloud, and sharing them on Flickr.

What's happening here is that we're seeing a new form of amateur user emerging, one that is more informed and one that behaves much more like a professional technologist. These people are able to explore technology in the same way a professional can, and as a result they are able to innovate and develop solutions in the same way a professional can.

Sure, those people haven't been scarred by years of experience in the field that teaches them all the things you need to do in order to develop a career as a professional and not get fired too often, but they have something really valuable to add. They also have a huge advantage in that technology is not their job -- a point I'll come on to.

Emergence

This has happened because with the invention of post-PC, computers have got easier. No longer are the computing devices that people have outside of the office a basket case of insanely difficult mess that -- unsurprisingly -- only professional technologists can actually understand. (Or be bothered with.)

Post-PC is much simpler and much less scary. Installing software is easier -- app installations never fail and never break. No one gets infected by viruses. Things just work. Post-PC devices come hand-in-hand with the cloud, which at this level provides frictionless ways of throwing data around.

Post-PC is pretty much like building with LEGO, whereas building stuff in the pre-post-PC era is like building stuff with some wood, a hand-cranked lathe, and your grandfather's chisels. Sure, the right person can build a beautiful artefact with the latter, but anyone can build something that works with the former.

Top-down

IT has always operated in a top-down fashion. IT's job is to provide an infrastructure service to all of the other business units. Just like a business would cease to operate well if the facilities department managed to put all of the restrooms out of action, IT has the same power to screw up a business too. The lights go out for everyone if we don't do our job properly.

Which is why we do things slowly and carefully. "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast" is the best project management maxim ever created despite its military origins.

We're all familiar with this highly-managed, top-down, IT-led approach. It's something that we like for the simple reason it gives us control. It allows us to go slowly and smoothly, and then allows to execute and deliver with value.

But now the organisation is filling up with creative amateur technologist who, as I alluded to, have one killer advantage over the professional technologists. They're much closer to the users who actually do the job. They know what needs to happen much better than the people in IT. There are also more of them. The headcount of innovators even in a large IT department will be overwhelmed by the headcount of innovators in all the other departments.

There's value that can be delivered here by tapping into this grassroots force, and allowing people to build solutions from the bottom-up. Much like we allow people to "Bring Your Own Device", is there a way that we can allow people to "Bring Your Own Services" (BYOS).

Here's an example. A department wants to email out a survey to its customers. The corporate CMS supports surveys, but it requires an upgrade. The upgrade project will take six months and cost $50k. The head of department goes out and buys SurveyMonkey subscription for a few dollars with their credit card and get they survey out in the afternoon.

(Other online survey tools are available, by the way.)

Of course, as an IT professional you've seen the collection of problems with what the amateur technologist has done there, but bear with me.

Conclusion

We've seen this happen, and we've seen that it can cause problems. For example, an employee finding that they can't get the VPN working uses Dropbox without IT's sanction. Then, that arrangement manages to leak sensitive information, the business gets fined, and the employee gets fired.

But it was ever thus in IT. It's easy to shoot down any proposition with problems, especially if it's not "done properly". (And anyone at a senior stage in their IT career will rarely a BYOS this as "done properly".)

Where I think BYOS is valuable is in allowing the business to choose whether they want to go top-down (always more expensive, but always more controlled, less risky, more strategic, longer-lived) versus bottom-up (initially much cheaper, possibly more risky, not strategic, but there and working).

There's value in both, and it's crazy to ignore the potential of this approach. Our challenge is to learn how to do this, and keep the quality up, and keep the lights on, and not go bankrupt.

As a final thought on this, watch out for emerging cloud-based service businesses that straddle the middle ground. This trend will continue to bite, and there are opportunities for a certain type of business that looks like a consultancy-led, service-orientated one, but actually bypass IT to work directly with service users within a business to help them deliver from the bottom-up.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Cloud

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7 comments
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  • BYOM Bring Your Own Malware

    Of course that's been happening anyway but this would just formalize it... perhaps it would be called MaaS Malware as a Service. :-)
    greywolf7
  • The PC was certainly not just the technologists.

    "The only people who played with computers were technologists. "

    Eh, that's going back to before the invention of the PC.

    The PC actually put technology into the hands of common people, and basically rendered the typewriter obsolete.

    But the situation is different with the new devices: The new devices didn't render the PC obsolete, as the PC continues to change and adapt. In fact, the lines are getting pretty blurry as to what's a "PC" and what's a new device, as an increasing number of devices can take on a hybrid role.

    I'm still waiting for that "post-PC" thing to happen. I own a bunch of devices - including a PC.

    BYOD was a fad. Many workplaces I've been to will likely never adopt it. Mostly for the reason you stated just now: They want to control their own network, but a personal cell phone can exist off of their network (on the separate cell phone network, controlled by carriers rather than the business).

    "For example, an employee finding that they can't get the VPN working uses Dropbox without IT's sanction."

    Meh, many workplaces I've been to have Dropbox blocked from their network. It's one of the top services banned from corporate networks.

    Although curiously enough, it's also one of the top whitelisted services on corporate networks too - it seems businesses either hate it or love it.
    CobraA1
  • Not quite exactly...

    You say "IT's job is to provide an infrastructure service to all", which is true and also very wrong. The job that IT does is to minimize differences so that they can do the least work, no matter if their solution actually helps. I've heard so many times, "no customization to software"! Why? Because it would require EFFORT to keep it working. Does the customization make the business work better? Of course, but that's not the point. It's HARD to keep it up to date, and IT is lazy. We'd much rather buy some multimillion dollar toy some salesman brought in so we can hire a dozen more people to work on it, even though it doesn't do any more than the cheap customization. It's just not sexy. Well, that's why people, given the chance to break free of this tyranny are going for it! You can make a splash in your company (promotion?!?) by being more efficient than IT, and it's hard for them to squash you like a bug like they did the Computer Services guy (who used to make the customizations) before!
    Tony Burzio
    • IT lazy?

      not usually, but are the customisations cost effective? Does the company reap a higher financial benefit from the customisation than it cost to make?

      Also, IT isn't just there to "provide an infrastructure service to all," they are there to provide a LEGAL infrastructure service to all.

      You want to use Dropbox to copy files, so you can work on them at home? Have you looked at the legal implications of that, before shoving that financial report into your Dropbox account?

      If it is "just" financial data, then you are probably breaking a few tax and finance laws in the process. If the data includes identifiable entities (individuals or other companies), then you are breaking data protection laws.

      Both can open you and your employer up to prosecution, fines and inprisonment.

      It is similar with BYOD, on its own. If you use a private device to store company data, it is no longer a private device. You must legally agree to let the IT department remote wipe it, you must password protect it and you cannot let your kids, spouse, friends etc. use the device!

      Do you really want to face little Johnny and tell him that he can't play Candy Crush again, because your iPad now has a company email account on it?
      wright_is
  • Nothing just works

    deal with reality
    I'm sure my wife's iPad is not unique in having had many app issues since she got it last year

    A
    andycher2
  • Play It Again

    15 or so years ago the PC era arrived and end-user computing was born. This "post-mainframe" era was created for the same reasons - the IT people were running a secure, measured and robust service as required by the top brass and the users just needed to get stuff done, by whatever means. The tools that arrived with their familiar desktop applications allowed them to do just that and they took the view that they didn't really need the governance that the IT people insisted upon. We didn't learn from thst and adapt enough though.

    Back in the here and now it's happening again for the same reasons. So yes, here's an(other) opportunity to build value. Those people with their smartphones and tablets know their business inside out and are working out ways to harness the opportunities presented by their devices. They understand the opportunities offered by cloud services and are exploiting the "always on" abilities of the two. And they're doing it with or without us. It's happening with my customers now.
    Captain Jetwash
    • But...

      the PCs were too expensive, so sanctioned and bought by departments and still subject to the same rules and regulations that the rest of the IT infrastructure was.

      With BYOD and BYOS (BYOE? Bring Your Own Everything), suddenly all those checks and balances that kept the company working within the law have gone, if the company isn't careful. As Matt said in the first paragraph of his conclusion, companies can get fined and people fired, if it comes out that the employees are using outside services and they are not industry compliant.

      As a user, I'd love to use my own hardware, it is better and more modern than what my employer provides me. As an IT professional and Data Protection Officer for my company, I am glad that I have a company smartphone...
      wright_is